This was the last book in the Drenai Saga that I hadn’t read, so reading it was a very bittersweet experience. On the one hand, this one is just as go...moreThis was the last book in the Drenai Saga that I hadn’t read, so reading it was a very bittersweet experience. On the one hand, this one is just as good as all the other books in the series, and made me want to revisit Legend and some of the others. On the other hand, I knew that once I’d finished it, there wouldn’t be any more Drenai books left. So I took it slow for the first half, but naturally I finished it at a breathless late-night sprint a day or two later.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I love David Gemmell’s books so much. There are many reasons, but I think the main reason is that his writing is honest. He strips away all the incidental stuff and gets right at the heart of the stuff that matters. He doesn’t pussyfoot around, either–if his characters do something despicable, he doesn’t make any excuses for them. He tells it like it is. This can make for a very brutal story, but it also makes for a very cathartic one.
The other reason I love his books so much is because he does such a good job depicting raw, unrepressed manhood–not the stupid stuff like driving big cars and eating meat, but manning up and facing your greatest fears. It’s about friendship, and honor, and fighting with all of your strength for something you believe in. It’s about all that raw, pent-up energy we all have, that animal urge that drives us to competitive sports and first person shooters, and channeling it for a heroic cause.
The craziest thing is that the fight itself is actually more important than whatever side the characters are fighting on. In this book, Druss is actually fighting to help bring about the rise of the Nadir khan who later invades his homeland and kills him on the walls of Dros Delnoch. None of that matters, though, because Druss doesn’t fight with malice. For him, it’s all about fighting for something, not against something, and the battle itself is just as important as the victory. I don’t think I can put it better than this:
“Can we win here?” Sieben asked, as the shaman’s image began to fade.
“Winning and losing are entirely dependent on what you are fighting for,” answered (view spoiler)[Shaoshad (hide spoiler)]. “All men here could die, yet you could still win. Or all men could live and you could lose. Fare you well, poet.”
The best thing about David Gemmell’s books is the fact that none of the characters–not even the bad guys–are defined by their own evil. The Nadir are supposed to be the evil chaotic race of the Drenai universe, but when you come to understand what they’re fighting for, their hopes and dreams for a better future, you can really see what’s good in them. Likewise, the more civilized Gothir are kind of like the evil white men who want to put down the savages and keep them in their place, but there are good and honorable men among them too.
And yet, even though the two sides clash, and good men die on both sides, it somehow isn’t tragic. That’s the crazy part. It’s almost like you can feel the characters salute each other as they die in a good cause, the way Ulric gave Druss a proper funeral in Legend, even though the two were blood-sworn enemies. In David Gemmell’s world, honor and courage are more important than life or money. Everyone dies; dying well is more important than living without honor.
This book is incredible. As I was reading it, I decided it was the best David Gemmell book I’ve ever read–which is something I do every time I read one of his books. I feel like I’m a better man for having read them. If he had written a hundred books in this series, I would happily read them all. The fact that there are no more new ones deeply saddens me, but I know I’ll revisit these stories again in the future.
This review first appeared on my blog, One Thousand and One Parsecs.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Ever since I met David Drake at World Fantasy 2009 in San Jose, I’ve been meaning to read one of his books. I must say, I picked a good one. With the...moreEver since I met David Drake at World Fantasy 2009 in San Jose, I’ve been meaning to read one of his books. I must say, I picked a good one. With the Lightnings is the first book in his RCN Series, which is basically David Drake’s take on Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels. Think Napoleon-era naval battles and political intrigue … in space.
Does it sound good already? Yeah, I thought so.
I was a little surprised at first, because the first chapter started with a bunch of info dumps. It took until about the halfway mark for the action to really start, but when it did, it was awesome. A bunch of navy guys marooned on a hostile planet behind enemy lines, trying to survive a planetwide coup and blowing all kinds of stuff up along the way–yeah, it was cool.
The thing I enjoyed most about this book, however, was the insight into the minds of the officers and the way the officers and soldiers interacted. You can tell that David Drake has experience in the military–lots of experience.
It was evident in the little things the main character noticed–the colors and patterns of soldiers’ uniforms, competency among his own men and incompetency in men not under his command, leadership style and how he dealt with crises–stuff like that. The language was colorful, but when the soldiers swore, their language had a bite to it that went beyond the actual words. The people felt gritty, but very real.
At World Fantasy, I mentioned to David Drake that I’d read some of Joe Haldeman’s works, and knew they were both Vietnam vets. He remarked that Haldeman’s works are very much different than his own: Haldeman’s characters are constantly stabbing each other in the back, whereas in Drake’s works, there is always a sense of teamwork and unity, even when the going gets messy.
I could definitely see that in With the Lightnings–it’s one of the things that made the book so fun to read. Yes, things get pretty tough and a lot of people die, but there’s always a sense of loyalty within the platoon (or whatever the unit is called).
With the Lightnings is a great space opera action/adventure story. After reading it, I really want to read more books in the RCN series. If you want a good, fun military sf adventure story, this is a great one to pick up.
With images reminiscent of Brave New World, 1984, and A Handmaid’s Tale, Jemma7729 is a dystopian, post-apocalyptic novel with a YA feel. The first ha...moreWith images reminiscent of Brave New World, 1984, and A Handmaid’s Tale, Jemma7729 is a dystopian, post-apocalyptic novel with a YA feel. The first half of the book details Jemma’s childhood and her transformation from daughter of two mid-level government workers to a rebel fighting to overthrow the system. I enjoyed the first part of this novel, with its intimate human drama and its resourceful, sympathetic viewpoint character. The story was paced well and kept my interest.
The second half of the book, however, was somewhat disappointing. Once Jemma escapes the domes and begins her campaign as a rebel terrorist, the story loses a lot of tension. Even though she is barely a twelve year old girl, she still, without any outside assistance, manages to blow up almost a dozen government facilities without getting caught or killed. The villains’ reasons for creating such an oppressive, anti-feminist regime are never adequately explained, and when Jemma starts to fight back, the government is too weak to put up a believable resistance. The middle of the novel lags considerably, with very little real action or suspense.
When the pace finally does pick up again, about forty pages from the end, the action is so confusing and happens so quickly that I felt completely lost. The main character’s voice gets lost in a blow-by-blow account of impossibly rapid events, as if the author was trying to compress two hundred pages of story into less than a quarter of that space. I fount it disappointing and inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the book. However, the twist at the end caught me by surprise and gave me some degree of satisfaction as I finished the book, though I would have been more satisfied if the last half of the book had been as good as the first half.
I saw this book on my also-boughts on Amazon, so I decided to pick it up. It was an enjoyable read. David Drake is very good at showing competent char...moreI saw this book on my also-boughts on Amazon, so I decided to pick it up. It was an enjoyable read. David Drake is very good at showing competent characters dealing with all sorts of complicated problems, operating within a strict chain of command while sometimes bending the rules a bit to get the job done.
The book is really a series of small vignettes, all tied together through the main viewpoint character, Ran Colville. There is an overarching storyline about the Empress's role as a coveted pawn in a larger interstellar war, but that only really drives the story at the very end. Really, it's more of a slice-of-life story about the crew of the ship, punctuated by all of the strange and exotic stops along the way--and boy, are there plenty of those!
Even though the Empress is neutral, she's a potentially valuable military asset that both sides in the Grantholm-Nevassan war want to capture. To complicate matters further, some of the passengers are dignitaries from either side. At one point, there's a romance between the peacenik daughter of a Nevassan diplomat and the son of a Grantholmer nobleman who is honor-bound to fight in the war. That subplot was a lot of fun.
As you can imagine, there's plenty of violence. And really, what would you expect from one of the world's best military science fiction writers? Drake does a really good job showing the adrenaline-soaked excitement of combat, as well as all the ugliness. Even the mooks get a viewpoint from time to time, and when they die, it's messy and traumatic. For that reason, the violence feels very realistic, especially in how it affects the main characters.
Ran is something of a player, so there is a fair amount of explicit sex (including a bit of inter-species action). Drake doesn't mince words or shy away from the gritty details--he puts it all on the page as matter-of-factly as any other aspect of life. The sex was brief enough that it didn't really bother me that much, but Ran's relationship toward one of his coworkers takes a turn at the end that seemed to come completely out of left-field. I could understand why, for the purposes of the story, it had to happen, but the way it was handled I just didn't buy it.
That was probably my biggest gripe. If I had another, it would be that the story seems to meander a bit in the first two-thirds, but the world-building was interesting enough that it didn't really bother me. Overall, it was a fun, light read (well, light for military sf). The ebook version is free on Amazon, so it's definitely worth picking up. And if you haven't read any David Drake yet, this isn't a bad place to start.
I've been waiting a long time for this book, and after reading it, I have to say it's been well worth the wait. David Gaughran breaks apart the Amazon...moreI've been waiting a long time for this book, and after reading it, I have to say it's been well worth the wait. David Gaughran breaks apart the Amazon ecosystem in a way that no other book does, analyzing the inner workings and showing some fascinating tactics. As someone who started self-publishing in 2011 and has published more than 14 ebooks, I can say that this is a must-read for anyone pursuing a professional career as a self-published author.
I do have a few minor quibbles, though. David frequently emphasizes the importance of the top 100 lists as a means to get more exposure, but from what I've seen, getting on a bestseller list is more a symptom of success rather than a cause of it. Instead, I think that also-boughts and links from sites outside of Amazon are much more influential in boosting visibility. However, I recently tried some of his techniques regarding category switching, and something appears to be working (though it may be all the new sub-categories that Amazon just added).
The weakest part of this book is the section on launch strategies. His "spreading the love" technique makes good sense, given his analysis of the sales rank and popularity lists earlier in the book, but the other techniques are basically a rehashing of ways that self-pubbed authors have been trying to game the system since early 2012, with much less success nowadays than in the past. Given how the publishing world is constantly changing, it's doubtful that these techniques will work a month or two from now. There's very little discussion in these chapters of ways to foster and encourage organic growth, or to develop meaningful relationships with fans that can help pay off when releasing new titles. However, David doesn't have a large catalog of titles to his name yet, so book launching is probably not an area where he has much experience.
For that, I have to knock off a star, but the rest of the book is quite solid--definitely worth reading and rereading. If you're a self-published indie writer like me who wants to turn writing into a full-time career, this is one you're going to want to pick up.(less)